When you are in car accident, there are numerous damages that you can recover for your losses and injuries. First and foremost, you can receive monetary compensation for the damage of your property. You can also be awarded for injuries or losses caused by the accident. These damages cover the cost of things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. These are the most common types of damages awarded by the court, and are the ones we are the most familiar with. They’re called compensatory damages. But there are another type of damages that the court may also award. These are called punitive damages in car accident.

punitive damages in car accident

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What are punitive damages?

Compensatory damages, as mentioned above, aim to return the victim to their former state. They’re designed to repair damages.  They pay for expensive medical bills required to aide the victim back to full health. But punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are more about the defendant. These types of damages come designed to punish the defendant for their actions. The goal? To deter the defendant from engaging in the same harmful activities again. The amount of punitive damages awarded is based on the severity of the actions of the defendant.

When are punitive damages awarded?

In order for the court to award punitive damages, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff. They must prove that any damages or harm caused was a direct result of the wilful or reckless actions of the defendant. Courts are much more hesitant to award punitive damages than they are compensatory damages. In addition, the rules are much more stringent. In most cases it is not enough to prove that negligence was the cause of the accident. Rather, you must be able to prove purposeful or extreme behaviour. As such, behaving carelessly may not be enough to win punitive damages. Drunk driving, on the other hand, is a good candidate for punitive damages in car accident. Texting and driving may also qualify for such damages.

How much will I get?

When it comes to punitive damages, there are several factors that play into the awarded value. These include, but may not be limited to:

  • Whether or not the defendant attempted to conceal their wrongful acts.
  • Whether or not the defendant was aware of the risk created by their actions.
  • The degree of culpability of the defendant as decided by the courts.
  • The severity of the harm and damages done.
  • Whether or not the plaintiff played any contributing role in the accident or injuries.
  • Whether or not the defendant has engaged in such dangerous acts before.
  • The ability of the defendant to pay the damages.
  • The likelihood that the punitive damages will deter the defendant from engaging in the same behaviour again.
  • Whether the plaintiff filed their claim promptly.
  • The likelihood that the punitive damages could deter others from engaging in the same reckless conduct.
  • Whether or not the defendant also received criminal penalties.
  • Whether the defendant faced any civil fines.

Are there any limits on punitive damages in car accident?

Yes. While it varies from place to place, there are limitations on the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages. Generally speaking, the damages cannot exceed 3 times the award of compensatory damages. Alternatively, damages cannot exceed $500 000. With that said, if the court finds that there was intent to harm, and harm was, in fact, caused, there is no limited on punitive damages.

Are there any other guidelines for punitive damages?

Yes. As we mentioned previously, the defendant’s actions usually need to be greater than mere negligence. In other words, if you want to file for punitive damages, you need to be able to prove that the defendant showed an obvious disregard for the safety of themselves and others. You would normally receive punitive damages alongside other kinds of damages, not on their own. In most cases they come accompanied by compensatory damages. And finally, punitive damages must be proportionate to the actual damages awarded. This is where the 3 times excess rule comes in.

Are there any other times when you might receive punitive damages?

Yes. Punitive damages in car accident are the most commonly awarded, but they can also be awarded in any other type of personal injury claim. In general, the court can award punitive damages anytime:

  • Someone participates in a class action where a large number of people obtained harm or injury.
  • The defendant intentionally engaged in conduct that caused harm or injury.
  • The conduct of the defendant resulted in severe bodily harm.
  • There is a malpractice suit where a blatant error was committed.
  • There was ill will by the defendant to cause harm or injury.
  • The conduct of the defendant exceeds acceptable social norms.

How can you seek punitive damages?

If you think you may have entitlement to punitive damages, your first step is to contact a lawyer. Punitive cases can be extremely lengthy and complicated, so you want to make sure that you have someone knowledgable at your side. During the process your lawyer can help you to do several things including:

  • Gathering evidence.
  • Drafting complaints.
  • Filing complaints.
  • Serving the defendant.
  • Receiving defendants response.
  • Attending pre-trial hearings.
  • Conducting written discoveries.
  • Deposing the defendant and other witnesses.
  • Evaluating settlement offers.
  • Participating in mediation.

If you have obtained injury in car accident and you feel that there was intent on behalf of the defendant, you may have entitlement to punitive damages. These damages are often awarded on top of your compensatory damages. The point is to punish and deter the defendant from engaging in such behaviour again. Such cases, however, are extremely complex. Unless you have experience, you should definitely hire a lawyer. A good attorney can help you determine whether or not you are, indeed, entitled to punitive damages in car accident. They can also help you through every step of the case, so you don’t have to deal with the legal system on your own.

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